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The Walking Dead is one of the more stylistically interesting shows on the air. Within a single episode, the show can present artistic visuals (such as this week’s excellent use of black and white vs. color to delineate flashbacks) and intriguing character beats (Morgan’s ability to suss out the reality behind several characters’ outside personas should come in really handy down the line), while still reveling in the more base elements of the series (rotting zombie hoards and complicated kill shots). But the show is always at its best when it eschews the baser parts of its make-up in favor of focusing on its characters. Sure, the audience might love a good zombie kill, but what keeps people coming back (whether they realize it or not) are the show’s characters.
“First Time Again” wasn’t a home run episode, but it was certainly a serviceable episode. We didn’t learn anything particularly new and the story didn’t advance all that much from where we left things last season. The high points of the episode were the various interactions between Rick and Morgan. Since Hershel died way back in season four, the show has been without any sort of moral center to temper Rick and his actions. The loss of Hershel’s counsel and level head created the Ricktatorship- for good and for ill. This jaded and dark Rick is one who has seen it all (or, at least assumes he has) and has come out the other side unwilling to accept there is still any good in him or the world at large. To be fair, it’s clear that things aren’t exactly all rainbows and puppy dogs, but after only a few days in Morgan’s presence, Rick is starting to soften.
There are clear threats out there in the woods- namely the Wolves, who I’m sure we’ll be getting a major introduction to sooner rather than later. But within the community of Alexandria, the threats are much more benign. It was heartening to see Rick opt to simply put the fear of God in Carter rather than off him. The Rick of a few months prior would not have given it a second thought before eliminating the threat. Now, perhaps Morgan isn’t the only reason Rick is becoming more willing to compromise. It certainly helps that Deanna is fully committed to Rick’s vision for the future. And that the Grimes Gang has proven to the people of Alexandria that they know how to kill walkers without breaking a sweat.
But having Morgan at his side gives Rick something he hasn’t had since the dawn of the apocalypse: a true equal he can trust. Morgan has seen it all, too. He’s made hard decisions like Rick. And it appears, from his brief mention of a friend teaching him his staff work, Morgan was also part of a group. And he might be the sole survivor. Yes, Morgan is a loner- or, at least, circumstances forced him to be- but Morgan can challenge Rick in all areas. Hershel and Dale were never able to question Rick’s battle tactics with much authority due to their own pacifist natures. And Shane was too unhinged for Rick to trust him in the end. But Morgan? I think Rick might have finally found his true right hand man.
Outside of the Morgan developments, the episode was mostly exposition for whatever will happen next week when we discover the source of the horn (my guess is Ron, Alexandra’s eldest son, who was sulking and skulking around the whole episode) and what damage the hoard will do to the settlement. I’m not all that worried about the majority of our major characters in the upcoming skirmish, and I’m not particularly worried about Alexandria either. While I haven’t read far enough into the comics to know all the details of the Alexandria storyline, I can’t see the series throwing out the setting this quickly. But, I do foresee some sacrifices being made- both now and further down the line this season.
— Major points to Morgan for seeing through Carol’s facade. Now that the walkers are heading straight for Alexandria, I have a feeling cookie-baking Carol is about to take a backseat to badass walker killing Carol.
— While there were some really great effects throughout the episode, the CGI was really rough during the scene with the walkers falling off the cliff. I understand there’s only so much you can get for a TV CGI budget (see the dragon issues over at Game of Thrones), but when things are looking so great, weak effects really pull you out of the show.
— Something’s not quite right with Abraham, which is great news, since he’s had almost nothing to do of late. I’d love to see Michael Cudlitz sink his teeth into something.